Free Family fun days out for half term

Five free things to get up to this half term...these are some of our favourites

London's Roman Amphitheatre 
Hidden in the bowels of the Guildhall Art Gallery in the heart of the City is a REAL Roman amphitheatre, not to be missed.  Only recently unearthed, it is the only Roman amphitheatre found in London.  The amphitheatre was big enough to hold 6,000 people, a quarter of roman London’s population and was the site of many fierce gladiatorial battles, public executions and wild animal fights.   To soak up the blood, the centre of the arena was filled with sand...

Smugglers’ Hideouts
Wander along the cobbled streets of Wapping dip down to the water’s edge at Wapping Old Stairs for a spot of mudlarking.  See where the pirates of long ago were hung in gibbets at execution dock and have a pint of lemonade at the Prospect of Whitby, once a haunt of sailors, smugglers, footpads and cut-throats.

Great Fire of London

Follow the trail of the fire from Pudding Lane to St Paul’s Cathedral.  Climb the Monument (small fee) and claim your certificate for doing so.  Wiggle down the lanes that were licked by flames, past St Mary le Bow on Cheapside.  Look for blue plaques marking the buildings that burnt.  Take the lift to the top of the new shopping centre, One New Change, just by Wren’s magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral and see the City spread out below. 

Isabella Plantation

Explore one of London’s little known secret woodlands tucked  away in the wilds of Richmond Park. The Isabella Plantation is a hidden haven, complete with twisty paths, stepping stones, bridges and bushes to hide in.  What makes this place great is that it is enclosed, making it perfect for children to explore without disappearing all together.  For the grown ups, there are 50 different species of rhododendron; camellias and magnolias.  In autumn, the guelder roses, rowan and spindle trees are at their best and the leaves of the acers are turning a glowing red.


Jump aboard a Thames Clipper boat from anywhere along the river down to Greenwich and spend the day exploring the wonderful National Maritime Museum.  Climb the hill to the Observatory for a picnic.  Beware that you can’t straddle time any more for free – there is now a £10 fee to walk on the Greenwich Meridian Line that divides the globe, east and west.  Boo hoo.  Make sure you look up to the top of Flamstead House at 12.55 and watch the large red ball rise slowly to the top of the spire.  At exactly 1pm, it dramatically drops down again.  It is one of the oldest public clocks and was designed so that ships on the Thames could correct their watches.  At the end of the day, walk under water via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and take the space age DLR home.  

Escape to the forest: hideouts and highwaymen

The Adventure

This weekend is good for a leafy autumn walk.  Head out to Epping Forest, a perfect place for playing ambush games, just like the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin might have done in his day.  It is said that Turpin used to stash his loot and hide out at Loughton Camp, an Iron Age fort, deep in the woods. 

Explore the forest to find the Lost Pond and take the opportunity to do some fishing or build a twig house, whittle sticks and climb trees. Practising orienteering would be a valuable exercise here too as it’s easy to get lost the moment you leave the paths.  

Keep your eyes open as Epping is a site of special scientific interest and many rare plants and animal species can be found here. You might even see deer as about five hundred roam in the forest.

To get there, take the M11 for just a few junctions north of London.  For full details of a walk in Epping Forest, see Chapter 5 of Adventure Walks for Families.

What’s it like 
Well maintained gravel or sand paths and woodland tracks. Gentle incline. Can be muddy.

What will I need?
  • A picnic – there is no obvious place to buy food en route and nowhere once you are parked up at the forest. If you visit the information centre there is a tea hut across the road that sells the basics.  Back in Loughton there are the usual pizza joints.
  • A compass. It is easy to get disorientated in a forest even though you are only a mile away from the road at any point. 
  • A penknife for whittling sticks or making a fishing rod
  • Bread to feed the mandarin ducks at the Lost Pond
  • Dressing up sword and highwayman’s cloak

    Make a weekend of it
    Pack up your tent and stay the night.  There is an excellent campsite at Debden on the edge of the forest where you are allowed to have real fires.  Toast marshmallows and roast sweet chestnuts gathered in the woods.  Debden Campsite  Tel 0208 508 3008 

    This is a map of the walk we did in Epping Forest in Adventure Walks for Families in and Around London hand drawn by talented graphic artist Frances Bennett.  

    Secret London: Great views

    The newest and, we think, the best vantage point to gaze at London’s iconic skyline is one of London's best kept secrets, yet to be discovered.  Get there first! 

    To find it head down to Cheapside at the St Paul’s Cathedral end.  Slip through one of the discreet entranceways of the spanking new shopping mall, One New Change.  Jump into one of its funky clear glass lifts to be whisked up to the 6th floor and step out onto a breath-taking roof top terrace and the best free view in London. 

    Simply walk around and take in the 180 degree view from the Shard, to the river, to St Paul's and the City.  Or have a drink or dinner in the Madison Restaurant up on the roof.  It's open from 7am to midnight, seven days a week.

    You heard about it here first.

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